When I say I’m a republican it tends to cause a lot of confusion. I’m not American, nor have I ever lived, or even been to, the USA, so I can’t possibly be a Republican in the sense of a right wing market liberal. In my bio on Twitter I describe myself as a Socialist Republican, which, for anyone familiar with Irish political history, would suggest an allegiance to the left wing Irish republicanism of James Connolly, or the republicanism of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, considered the political wing of the INLA paramilitary group. However, again, this is not really the case. While to I fully support an Irish Republic, and to some degree a United Ireland, I am fundamentally opposed to nationalism (a discussion I’ll save for another time).When I say I’m a republican I mean it in the broadest sense of the term. I support the existence of a state and society with the most democratic, representative and open government possible; what we call a representative democracy. This idea is articulated in a sermon by the abolitionist minister, Theodore Parker, who later influenced Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863) and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’. The particular line by Parker that perfectly explains this idea of republicanism and democracy is as follows:
Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.
In the UK context, which is where most of my political energy is directed, this means having a government that is not only democratically accountable, as it is currently in the form of General Elections, Local/Regional Elections, and Referenda, but also one that is limited in its powers and is representative of the democratic will of the people. It is a government decided by the people, that represents the people, and governs over the people in the form of self-governance. By ‘all the people’ we mean everyone capable of participating. There was a time when women, and men not of the landed class, could not vote. There was a time when young adults under 35 also could not vote. This has changed drastically in the last 150 years, but there is still further to go, with 16 and 17 year olds excluded from the upcoming European Referendum, despite the significant and successful role they played in the Scottish Independence Referendum in September 2014.
More specifically, what I support as a republican is drastic electoral reform; the replacement of First Past the Post, purely constituency based elections, with a system of Proportional Representation, so that no Party can win an absolute majority with only 25% of the electorate’s support, as is the case with the current Tory government; the democratisation of the House of Lords, creating a fully democratic House of the People to serve as a legitimate Upper House that keeps the House of Commons in check; the removal of the Church of England’s special status in the UK, particularly in the form of its representation in the House of Lords and the requirement that the Head of State be Protestant; and the abolition of the monarchy, replacing it with a democratically elected President, independent of part politics, and with restricted powers, or the abolition of the role of Head of State altogether, with the creation of a parliamentary republic.
As it stands, the monarchy in the UK is largely ceremonial, however due to convention, which is very much the basis for the UK’s unwritten constitution, the Government’s power and authority is derived from that of the monarch’s, rather than from that of the people. This is why it is called Her Majesty’s Government, and Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, with the expectation that even the parliamentary opposition remains loyal to the unelected monarch. My republican views come from and contribute to my strong belief in democracy. This is why I support Proportional Representation, a democratic House of Lords, and a stronger decentralised local government. It is also why I believe that the monarchy must be abolished. No one elected Queen Elizabeth II, nor any other monarch from the House of Windsor, the royal house of the United Kingdom. The monarchy is entirely unaccountable to the people, and it also costs millions of £s annually (£40 million for 2015-16, and rising significantly annually since the Sovereign Grant Act 2011) in return for only symbolic gestures. The Royal Family is exempt from taxes, despite receiving millions in profits from its private holdings annually, on top of the grants paid by the Government with taxpayers’ money.
The role of the monarchy isn’t entirely ceremonial. In the event of a a hung parliament, resulting in either a minority government (Labour, February 1974) or a coalition government (Tory-LibDem, 2010) it is the monarch who ultimately has a say in who gets to form a government.
I am a republican because I believe in self-governance, in a representative government that is democratically accountable to the people at all levels, whether it be the Commons, the Lords, or the Head of State. Many people say that these things will result in chaos in our electoral system, with a perpetual state of shifting coalitions and minority governments, but this is not so. In countries where Proportional Representation is used, such as Ireland, there is actually a huge amount of stability. The current Irish government, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition represents a political position ranging from the centre-left (primarily on social issues) to the right-wing, and it is the first government in almost 20 years to have received a combined majority of the votes as well as an absolute majority in terms of seats. No election in Ireland has produced a single party majority government since the 1977 General Election, which interestingly enough was also the last time any party won over 50% of the popular vote. This says a lot. Irish politics has remained fairly stable for at least 70 years, and remains relatively stable even to this day, with no party able to form a government by itself. Ireland’s presidency also shows interesting patterns. Despite largely being dominated by Fianna Fáil backed candidates, there have been three exceptions since Seán T. O’Kelly was elected the second President of Ireland in 1945; Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, Mary Robinson, and incumbent Michael D. Higgins. Ó Dálaigh (1974) ran unopposed on an all-party nomination; Robinson (1990) defeated the Fianna Fáil candidate for the first time ever on a joint Labour/Workers’ Party/Independents nomination, and D. Higgins (2011) won as the Labour nominee. What this displays, as does the nature of Irish General Elections and government formation, is that in this system of proportional representation in a republic with an elected Head of State is that there can still be stability, but the distribution of seats is much more in line with the percentage of the vote won by the various political parties, and that cooperation across the spectrum is absolutely necessary (no party has absolute control) and that minor parties and junior coalition partners have far more power and influence than in other systems.
What is clear is that a democratic Republic provides a better deal for the people, and means that the government derives its power and authority from the people rather than a monarch. It is representative, democratic, and inclusive.